I’ve been following Jon Katz’s blog bedlamfarm.com for a while now. My first encounter was while driving through rural Virginia listening to NPR. It was either an author interview that they do so well or a review of his book,”A Good Dog”. It was the true story of his sometimes misadventures with a Border Collie named Orson that ultimately can’t conform to life on a farm or with any people. Orson winds up being euthanized for his misbehavior and I do remember crying along with Jon and making promises to never let a dog down, if I can help it. Jon went on to write books about grief, loss and losing pets. I’ve written to him directly and thanked him for his writings. He has a strong insight into the connection between animals and people and the big picture. I learned from Jon that animals are content to be in the moment, something I am always working on. Life can be, well…..it can just be tragic. If you are living, REALLY living, you end up seeing death as well. If you are one of us who happens to be granted a seat front and center with death, I think you might understand life around you differently. Not better, just with a different perspective.
I sat here today to share a short note I shared with Jon on facebook. That’s another thing I learned from Jon Katz…..encouraging others to be creative is good for everyone, including the one who is encouraging. When you are desparate to tap something out of your creative side and it just won’t come, go offer a nudge to someone you recognize as being in the same fog. Jon put out a call for stories about the kind of dog that is a ‘dog for life’. So, this was mine:
When my first daughter, third child was 6 months old a fellow employee at my husband’s work mentioned they were going to shelter kill the working dogs on their farm. The husband had experienced a major cardiac episode and he could no longer manage the few horses, head of cattle and donkeys they kept. The dogs weren’t inside the house kind of dogs. They were a breed we had never seen. Aussie Heelers, they said. There was a 6 mo old litter of pups, all named for the components of a well dressed burger. We took Pickle. She was the only one who came out from behind the couch. Her primary role in our house was front door monitor. We lived (still do) on an urban Phoenix block. The mailman didn’t come without us knowing. Strangers with nefarious intentions would be deterred by her excited barking. She knew when to use it. She was in charge of cleaning bits of food the kids inevitably drop to the floor. They being under 4 sat at a little table, right at her head height and she never once stole anything off the table surface. She was backyard monitor. If all the kids weren’t in the yard together, she ran from kid to kid checking. She was a good nanny. She never got the hang of a closed glass door. Nor could she contain her love for the garbage can. She camped from Sea level to 8000+ ft with us. In snow and heat, just the same. She hiked to Chericahua Peak with my husband, traveling the length of the group from front to back of the pack. She hiked the trail four times more than the people did by doubling back repeatedly. She stood between my 37 week pregnant body and a 300 pound black bear at Rustler Park in the Chericahua Mountain Range. I named the baby after the bear…the ranger was as relieved as we were that the dog was so brave. Pickle moved with us to Virginia in the early 90’s. We found a rural 2.5 acres and she spent her years to 15 there. My fourth couldn’t open the garage landing door one day. Pickle had passed in the night, on the other side of the door. It was a cold day, the ground still frozen. My sons dug into the yard along the trees. My second son was in treatment at a Richmond hospital….cancer. he couldn’t dig but for a few minutes. He and his brother took turns and they laid her to rest in the cold hard ground in a hole nearly 5ft deep. She was our dog. She did all the dog things for her people. She watched, alerted, played, hiked,comforted, attended. Good dog.
I have more dog stories, they seem less significant and I have 2 at home now. All of our dogs have been ‘rescues’. Who is being rescued is up for debate. My first dog was a black lab, born to a litter in a household my parents were friends of. I don’t remember how or why, but one day I got a puppy. I think I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade. I named her Daphne. She was black, a puppy. I had no experience with dogs and my dad, having been raised in a tenement in Brooklyn…well, this poor dog wasn’t in for an easy life. The puppy grew fast, I remember. When winter came, dad built her a dog house with paint that matched our house. And a chain. I think if I visited that property today, I might see the far corner of the yard isn’t as far away as I remember it being. It felt like a mile away in the middle of winter. I took a big bowl of Gravy Train out to the dog every morning, before school. I waited while she wolfed down the steaming bowl. And I sat in the dog house with her when I got home. One day, she got away from the chain and ran for hours. I chased her through neighborhoods, freezing and crying. I begged for help from people I came across. I ended up at home and she was sitting on the front step. I came home from school the next day and dad told me he took her to live on a farm. I think perhaps this was my first dose of reality in life. The words they told me were one thing, the reality was another. I knew where that dog went. I was powerless to make that happen any differently. I spent sleepless nights well into adolescence apologizing to that dog. So, the dog in my post was a rescue. And so would the next one. And the most recent. They come with their quirks and their problems. Just like people. But they don’t seem to worry about what they fear (except for the pool). They are pretty good at hanging out with us, while we figure our our quirks.